Sins of Her Fathers, Strength of Her Mothers: How Jolyne Cujoh inherited her foremothers’ legacy

By: Caitlin Moore May 26, 20230 Comments
Jolyne gazing through the bars of her cell with her star birthmark clearly visible

Spoilers for all of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure

While most of the world has moved on from primogeniture, the patriarchal nature of tracing family lines remains baked deep into cultures across the world. It manifests in a number of ways, including in fiction. In genre fiction, stories that touch on lineage primarily concern themselves with the male line. Even outside of cultural biases, it makes a certain kind of sense, since in many places, children inherit the names of their fathers, which creates a nice continuity. However, it tends to disregard the role of mothers, who are often treated as little more than broodmares with little influence past early childhood. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure by Araki Hirohiko, on the other hand, presents a very different attitude. Not only does the story conclude with Jolyne, the first female protagonist of the saga, but it’s clear that her very survival hinges on traits she inherited from her female predecessors.

Jolyne getting ready to fight Pucci underwater

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure stands apart from other battle shonen series in a number of ways, but one of its greatest distinctions is the intergenerational nature of its conflict. While the story began in 1880’s England with Jonathan Joestar and his conniving adopted brother Dio Brando, it refuses to conclude with Jonathan’s death, instead following the Joestar line through six generations (and two offshoots), culminating with Jolyne Cujoh, Jonathan’s great-great-great granddaughter. This article is not about evaluating the quality of the female characters in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure; there’s so much more to consider about the roles characters play in a narrative world. Araki creates a sense of progression not just through the continuing conflict, but by developing a clear sense of lineage where you can see how each generation is influenced by the previous one.

Three-way shot of Joseph, Jotaro, and Holy's star birthmarks

The thing is, Jonathan Joestar is not a particularly interesting character. In his position as the progenitor of the saga, he doesn’t really need to be interesting; the most important thing is how he stands in opposition to DIO. He is honest and straightforward, with a strong sense of justice – in other words, a typical shonen protagonist of the era. By contrast, Jolyne is a rich, complex character, possessing the full range of human emotions. She has a great capacity for anger, for sadness, for love, for silliness, and for joy. In those, I see not just Jonathan’s passion for justice, but echoes of her female ancestors: of Erina, of Lisa Lisa, and of Suzi Q.

On her first night at Green Dolphin Street Prison, sentenced to 15 years after taking the fall for her boyfriend hitting a pedestrian and trying to hide the body, Jolyne does not get angry. She does not fight or stand tall. She lies in her bunk and weeps. Her great-great-great-great grandmother, Erina Joestar, née Pendleton, was teased as “Erina the Crybaby” as a child. In her first appearance, she’s crying over a couple of neighborhood boys stealing her doll until Jonathan happens by and gets it back for her. However, over the years, Erina displays much greater strength than just a weak victim. When Dio, in an attempt to ruin Jonathan’s life through her, steals a kiss, she turns around and washes her mouth out with dirty puddle water while glowering at him. She raises her son George by herself, and when he is killed and her daughter-in-law is in hiding, does the same for her grandson Joseph. Erina may cry at first, but when it comes down to it, she stands up and does what she must. 

Erina holding an infant Lisa Lisa, staring into the distance with a determined expression

Five generations later, when she finishes crying, Jolyne stands up and does what she must. Her cellmate Gwess tries to take advantage of her, first demanding $200 in exchange for the locket Jolyne had lost, and then using her Stand to shrink Jolyne down and force her into the hollowed out carcass of a rat. Jolyne, when she realizes just how deadly serious the stakes are, does not sit back and allow herself to be victimized. She awakens to her own Stand, Stone Ocean, and fights Gwess off. As a gently raised young woman in Victorian England, Erina is not a fighter in any literal sense of the word because she never needed to be. She was strong in other ways.

Jonathan was a powerful fighter, but he wasn’t a particularly angry person. He disliked and distrusted Dio, but that was more because Dio did things like put his dog in the furnace to be burned to death and poison his father. He was also big-hearted and willing to forgive, winning him the devoted loyalty of people like Robert E.O. Speedwagon, who was originally Jonathan’s would-be mugger. Jolyne, on the other hand, is angry. She resents her father Jotaro for his absence and loses her temper against her opponents quickly. Her anger throughout Stone Ocean is usually righteous, but sometimes she just gets pissed off and loses her head. She still carries Jonathan’s sense of justice and willingness to forgive those who deserve it, as with the sentient plankton F.F., but is just as capable of carrying a grudge.

Young Jolyne looking downcast, with Jotaro in a spotlight

That hotheadedness, which is not unique to Jolyne in the Joestar line, stems from the influence of Elizabeth Joestar, better known as Lisa Lisa, Jolyne’s great-great-grandmother. Unlike her mother-in-law, Lisa Lisa was raised and trained as a warrior from the time she was very small, a master of the Hamon breathing technique that characterizes the action in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. That warrior training gives her a greater ability to fight back against her enemies, including leaving her infant son Joseph’s side to kill the zombie that murdered her husband and subsequently going into hiding as a fugitive wanted for homicide. Lisa Lisa works hard to project an image of  cool and calm, but under the surface, she’s temperamental and impulsive.

That anger can be a weakness – hence Lisa Lisa’s exile to Venice, far from her family – but it can also be a strength. Lisa Lisa doesn’t fight just for the sake of a good brawl, but to protect the people precious to her, to say nothing of protecting humanity as a whole. She may be impulsive at times, but she is also highly capable of thinking on her feet and keeping her cool in the heat of battle. Jolyne’s own anger in her life has led her to make some poor decisions, such as joining a gang as a way of acting out against her father’s perceived neglect, which allowed her enemies to use her criminal record to their advantage in their plan to trap her in prison. However,  as she becomes a more adept fighter, she proves herself to be highly intuitive and creative in battle, such as turning parts of her body into a Mobius strip to prevent herself from being turned inside out. 

Stylized shot of Lisa Lisa, ready for battle

Outside of the narrative, Lisa Lisa and Jolyne have something else in common: both are examples of Araki pushing the envelope of female representation in battle shonen manga. In his afterword to the new editions of Battle Tendency, the second part of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, Araki comments on how up to that point, female characters in Shonen Jump magazine were almost always cute cheerleaders for the male lead but, “In a match, common sense dictates that the physically stronger one would win, but I realized that if you add supernatural abilities into the mix, a woman can fight on even footing with a strong male opponent. In other words, if the battle is between those with supernatural powers, physical appearance has nothing to do with strength. The Hamon is Lisa Lisa’s supernatural ability.” He also has commented that he was “held back from going as far as he would have liked with her.”

While developing Stone Ocean, Araki’s editor pushed against making the protagonist a woman, citing Shonen Jump’s target audience of young teen boys as a reason to play it safe and have the manga feature a man. Araki pushed back, saying, “the fact that readers wouldn’t accept a female lead was exactly the reason why Jolyne had to be a woman.” Whether or not the readers accepted Jolyne – Stone Ocean is one of the less popular parts, although there are possible reasons for that beyond simply Jolyne’s gender – Araki proved himself to be capable of writing women who can genuinely hold their own both in physical combat and battles of the wits in 1999. Over 20 years later, many shonen writers still shy away from treating female characters as anything more than support characters, even with supernatural powers.

Suzi Q playfully feeding an injured Joseph

Suzi Q, Jolyne’s great-grandmother, and Holy, the daughter she had with Joseph, on the other hand, are not at all warriors. Neither one has a moment that defines them as strong; quite the contrary, as Suzi is possessed by an enemy trying to attack Lisa Lisa and Holy is almost killed by her own Stand while Joseph and her son Jotaro travel to Egypt to fight DIO. Suzi Q is airheaded, doing things like forgetting to telegram Joseph’s family to let them know he’s alive and they’ve been married. Holy is her mother’s daughter, silly and childish even into her middle age.

Holy tickling Joseph in the airport. Subtitle: Oh, now you've done it! I'm going to tickle you!

These women are not warriors; they never needed to be. Although we don’t know much about Suzi before the events of Battle Tendency, Holy clearly grew up wanting for nothing with loving, affectionate parents. She had the luxury of a normal upbringing that allowed her to stay soft and silly, with nothing but love in her heart. When Jotaro curses and snaps at her, she just smiles and lets it pass; her capacity for love and forgiveness seems infinite. Suzi isn’t quite as forgiving, though, considering her fully justified fury at finding out her husband fathered a child with another woman years ago.

Although Jolyne probably wouldn’t have been exactly the same, not with her temper, she has her own moments of ditziness. In the very first pages of the comic, she’s freaking out not because of a high stakes conflict, but because a guard caught her masturbating. In that fateful car ride with her boyfriend Romeo, she shows a very different side of herself: feeling safe and loved, she opens herself up to being soft, silly, and vulnerable. Jolyne, after years of acting out and anger at her father for leaving her, simply wants to love and be loved.

Jolyne in the car with Romeo

Jolyne’s softness that lies underneath the hardened exoskeleton she developed in order to survive in prison is a huge part of what makes her a compelling character. Glimpses of that side of her become increasingly rare as the series goes, but she retains her heart full of love to the very end, sacrificing her life to protect the child Emporio in a doomed battle at Stone Ocean’s climax. It’s Emporio who then goes on to defeat Enrico Pucci and the existential hell he has imposed on the world with his stand Maiden Heaven. In her other life as Irene, able to grow up without the specter of DIO hanging over the Joestar line, she offers her sweater to a child lost by the side of the road she finds on a road trip with her boyfriend. Jolyne’s toughness saved her in prison, but her lovingness saved all of humanity.

Irene wrapping her sweater around Emporio

Many intergenerational narratives focus on the carrying on of the name and inheritance, but Jolyne bears the name Cujoh, a corruption of her Japanese grandfather Kujo Sadao’s name inherited from her grandmother Holy, not Joestar. Male lines may be privileged in society, but every child, every human, is the result of countless lineages converging. Jolyne may be her father’s daughter in many ways, but both of them carry not just Jonathan, but Erina, Lisa Lisa, and even Suzi Q within their hearts. Jolyne is the last of the Jojo’s, the summation of everything about them that carried the family line through all those generations.

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